Tafalong, past and present

by on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 Comments
Tafalong is a traditional Amis village located nearby the township of Fata’an (Guangfu), in Hualien county – a township with which it entertains an healthy, deep-rooted rivalry... Working the land remains the main activity: cultures of betel nut, rice, sweet potato fruits and vegetables shape the surrounding landscape. Yield is rather good, and the first impression of the outsider entering the area is certainly one of a hard-working, moderately affluent population. Older people are slowly walking along the streets, speaking mainly Amis among themselves, while the wandering groups of schoolchildren speak only Chinese and seem to be spoken to solely in that language.

Tafalong keeps alive songs and legends describing the creation of the world and evoking spirits, genealogies and rituals. As in other Amis areas, the Yearly Offering ("Ilisin" – often translated in English as the Harvest Festival), taking place sometime in August, remains the biggest event of the year. In Fata’an and, to a lesser extent in Tafalong proper, the Offering now takes place on a large scale and has become a much-publicized touristic event. Its State-sponsored promotion may have gone along the loss of meaning that the one who watches it might experience – still, its long preparation unites the whole community, and everybody seems to get great fun out of it. In Sado, the very small size of a closely-knit community obviously concurs to better preserve the spirit and the ritualistic undertones traditionally attached to the festival: in this particular hamlet, during the three days event, men are chastised by the village chief if they did not meaningfully participate in community life during the year (the punishment consists in the drinking of a large bowl of rice wine), praised if they did so (such men are by far in the minority…). Young men’s initiation is still a commonly observed feature, though the way it is followed and performed varies from place to place.

In the still recent past, several shamans (or, more frequently, she-shamans.) were living in Tafalong. There is still one of them remaining in Sado, who also plays the role of a medium catering for the needs of Han people through Taoist rituals. Underlying shamanist creeds and practices are certainly present, but they are largely covered and transformed by Christian beliefs. The Catholic community is the most numerous and active, while two Protestant churches also enjoy a significant following. The faith brought from afar has been acculturated through songs, community bonding (there is a very active Catholic old women association) and well attended Sunday services celebrated at the same time in Amis and Chinese. Parish retreats and study sessions are an important part of village life. Japanese priests preaching to the elderly in the language they have learnt during their youth come to Tafalong once every year.

The term "kawas" refers at the same time to the Christian God and to the gods of the Amis tradition. Therefore, the shaman is usually called "Sikawasay", meaning the One who possesses a god. Spirits, demons and guardian angels are regularly invoked during all rituals. The invocation to the Ancestors is a basic part of traditional Amis rituals, and it is common to see Amis people offering some alcohol to the pictures of latter generation ancestors adorning the walls of their house, muttering to them a rapid prayer if they fear that trouble is brewing or that they have somehow behaved improperly. At the same time, the stress on ancestors and on their watchful presence is assimilated into Christianity without too much ado, especially by the Catholics, more accommodating in that respect than their protestant brethren.

Photo: B.V.
Nakao Eki

Formosan Melon|Endemic to Tafalong

那瓜|太巴塱特有種

Website: blog.roodo.com/milifonoh

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